"Can you wangle me a judging spot? I've never been to South America."
"Sure, Ron, no problem."
Kristen sounded very confident. I wasn't so certain. But sure enough, a month or so later the organisers of Copa Cervezas de América got in touch. Cool. I was going to South America. And it wasn't ebven going to cost me anything. Well, drinking money. How much could that run to?
Dolores was slightly more concerned. "Don't get yourseld kidnapped or killed, Ronald."
"Don't worry, I've looked it up on the internet. Santiago is perfectly safe. At least by South American standards.
It turned out to be one of the most fun trips I've had in years. Someone else had organised everything and all I had to do was hang around and drink with a bunch of international pissheads.
Chile here I come
I'm sensible at Schiphol. Limiting myself to a medium Heineken - not super cold - and a double Jamesons. So far so good.
It's yonks since I was last in Charles de Gaulle. I'd forgotten how shit it was. Like Alphaville without the laughs. And I’ve five hours to kill there. I was really paranoid about missing the connection and deliberately left myself several hours.
There's nothing as normal as a bar at the terminal I'm in. Tell a lie, there is a caviar and champagne bar. Hardly any food options, either. I end up eating at Yo Sushi. It’s OK, but not great. And by waiting between plates I can run down the clock. I have a couple of beers. Which are pretty ridiculously expensive.
With a few hours still to kill, I resort to getting in a few cans of Kronenbourg 1664 in a shop. And sit glumly at my gate sipping them and reading Private Eye.
The flight is over 14 hours. But there are films to watch and I’ve got loads of legroom. I even manage to squeeze in a couple of hours of fitful sleep. Definitely better than getting none.
When I’ve passed immigration and picked up my bag, I walk through to landside. There’s a huge scrum around the exit. So much that I have to push my way through. Eventually I spot a bloke with a beard holding up a card with my name on it. He’s got Stan Hieronymus and John Roberts, owner of Max’s Lager in Atlanta, with him.
The driver walks incredibly quickly, despite carrying some of our bags. I struggle to keep up with him. But soon we’re speeding through the suburbs, bound for our hotel in Providencia, a posh part of the city. It’s a lovely, sunny day with a clear azure sky. Unless you look closer to the horizon, where it has a brownish hue. Smog is a problem due to the city’s location in a valley surrounded by mountains.
I lost the back of my watch at some point during the flight. I repair it with a piece of my business card and selotape while checking in. The selotape makes the dial hard to read, but at least it’s a functioning watch. I’ll need it as there’s no clock in my room.
We have a wander. The area is pretty posh. Avenue Lyon is closed to car traffic for part of Sunday and it’s full of bikes and pedestrians. Looks a bit like Vondel Park on a Saturday.
We find a corner shop and I buy a bottle of Kuntsmann Pale Ale.
"What are the rules on street drinking here?"
I take a chance and guzzle as we walk. It's pretty hot and it slips down a treat.
It's before midday and nowhere is open. But a dodgy looking bloke with missing teeth and a high-vis jacket comes over and introduces himself. It's a tense moment. He asks me something in Spanish and I pick out the word "mujer". He's asking me if I want a woman. It's 11:30 on a Sunday. Got to admire his sense of enterprise. I politely decline.
We find a cafe. Stan has a monster ice cream. Me and John have a cappuccino. And I have a sandwich, too. It’s a bit bland, if I’m honest. But the sweet offerings look good. Dolores would love the cakes here.
Finally we find a pub that's open, El Hapetito, with a very friendly young barmaid. Who speaks no English. We've seen a "Cerveza artesenal" sign outside and manage to order 3 half litres of Pale Ale. We don’t linger after finishing them. A half is enough for me at this point.
I'm a bit limpy on the return to our hotel. Damn these new shoes.
I’m told Kristen is in a pub. Rather than head off there, I rest. Recuperating for a couple of hours. And showering. After 25 hours travelling, I really need a shower. And a whisky. Lagavullin, for a change.
There’s a meeting to explain the judging system in the evening. It’s at Flannery’s Beerhouse, an Irish pub not far from the hotel. I walk down there with Stan and John. They have smart phones so can navigate the way. No need for me to worry with paper maps.
Our route is leafy and suburban, be it mostly in the form of flats.
We’re quite early and few others are there. Inside, it’s been quite nicely done. Without too much folksy Irish crap.
The meeting is in the upstairs bar. We head up there, but as it’s pretty hot, we move outside to the roof terrace, which is a very pleasant temperature. Kristen arrives wearing some godawful gaudy shorts and socks. I didn’t realise he’d gone blind.
“A pint of Stout, please.”
“Sorry, that’s run out.”
What? An Irish pub with no Stout? I get an IPA instead. The beers come from the owner’s other business, the Tubinger brewery, which is located about an hour outside the city.
After Felipe Pizarro, one of the organisers, has explained the judging method in Spanish and English, there’s a buffet. I’m not that hungry and limit myself to a few chips. I’m starting to run out of steam.
We walk back to the hotel after a few more beers. Where I finish the day with a tot of Lagavullin. Sweet.
I think I’m going to enjoy this trip.
Max Lager's Wood-Fired Grill & Brewery
320 Peachtree St NE,
Avda Providencia 1344, P
Tel: +56 2 2235 1326
Providencia, Región Metropolitana.
Tel: +56 2 2303 0197
My trip was paid for by Copa Cervezas de América
Chile judging day one
It’s quite early, 7:45. We were warned by Felipe yesterday to be punctual. The tasting kicks off at nine.
A couple of young Brazilian women are on the next table. Fernanda Meybom and Daiane Colle. They’re from Florianopolis in the south of the country.
“We know that we smile too much,” Fernanda says. Is that a bad thing? Smiling too much? Rather that than be a miserable bastard. You can never smile too much, in my opinion. I just think that. Don’t actually say it. I’m English. We keep in too much.
They’re critical of the breakfast. “It’s much better in Brazil. Lots of fruit. And better bread.”
“What sort of bread?” I stupidly ask. “Lots of different types of bread.” Is the reply. I realise it was like asking what sort of beer they brew in Germany. I’m an idiot sometimes.
I should probably tell you why I’m here. It’s to judge in the Copa Cervezas de América the first half of the week, then talk at the Latin American Brewers Conference the second half. Kristen has done it for several years and got me the invitation. I didn’t need to be asked twice.
It’s bright but chilly morning as we walk to the university, where the tasting will take place. Kristen is as hyperactive as ever. Someone should lace his morning coffee with Ritalin. Might make him more bearable.
The verges are well kempt and the streets are clean. A good bit cleaner than Amsterdam. There’s a mix of old, mini palaces and mid-rise flats. The gardens are illuminated by bright flowers. All very well-healed. Only the high fences around each property – sometimes topped with barbed wire - betray a darker side to the city.
The bundles of mains electricity cables sagging from telegraph poles are a bit scary. Especially when odd bits of wire are hanging off. And workmen do seem to be fiddling with them quite often..
Kristen has a weird cheese-shaped hat, in the colours of the US flag. “The slowest judge on my table will have to wear it. Chileans won’t like it. Cheesehead is the term for someone who is a bit slow mentally.” Great way to make friends and influence people, Kristen.
The tasting is in a hall of the Universidad de Las Americas. The building is a little bit rundown. Like Leeds Poly in the 1970’s. No, not that bad. Probably much like Leeds University.
There are tables of three, headed by a captain. One of which is me. My job is to achieve consensus when our scores are too far apart. We each have a laptop on which to enter our scores and comments.
The morning tasting kicks off with American Light Lagers followed by Cream Ales. Mikel Rius, who organises the Barcelona Beer Festival, and Gabriel Lara from Chile are my tasting companions for this session. It’s fun meeting different nationalities. Especially South Americans, few of whom I’ve met before.
The people are great. While the beers are mostly pretty bland. Except for a couple of real stinkers.
Looking around the room I notice something. I’m about the only male – other than the organisers and Stan – who isn’t wearing some sort of beer-branded shirt. In the case of industry people, one from the business they work for. Civilians presumably favour their favourite brewery.
The wild beers are mostly dead good. There’s a good fruited Brett beer that could pass for Belgian. Then a Stout/Double Brown based beer that has a wonderful combination of coconut and coffee. It’s a really outstanding beer. Wish I knew what it is.
For lunch we trail off to Pez de Oro, a Peruvian restaurant just around the corner. I’m accompanied by my tasting partners. It’s nice as we have more time to chat than during the judging.
We start with ceviche, I dish I’ve heard of but never tried. Gingery, spicy, sour and delicious. It’s a dead good mix of Asian and South American flavours. It’s followed by a lamb shank with rice. It’s pretty nice, but I get a small piece of bone stuck between my teeth. It takes me the next hour to remove it.
Dorthea Wächtler, a pleasant young woman who works for Weyermann malt comes and sits at our table.
“Do you live in Bamberg?” I ask.
“You lucky devil.”
She speaks excellent English and Spanish. Way better than my German. I’m really jealous of her Spanish. Would come in dead handy here, where lots of people speak zero English.
I pass on the cheesecake pud.
In the afternoon I’m paired with Hernando Hernandez from Chile and Ricardo Aftyka from Argentina. The latter has a tiny brewery in Buenos Aires, Juguetes Perdidos, which produces 1,200 annually. He and his partners all have other jobs.
We’ve a whole session of Belgian Blonde Ales. The first is pretty good, with all the characteristics I’d expect: sweet, clovey and a touch of bitterness in the finish. It’s all downhill from there. The rest are mostly shit. Some are far too dark, others have no clove flavour, quite a few have a horrible cabbage water taste. I have to eat loads of crackers to get rid of the nastiness.
Kristen comes up to me and says: “How did you ever manage to write books typing with two fingers?” Cheeky bastard.
“It’s three, actually. And a thumb.”
As I’m not sure of the route back to the hotel. I ask Averie Swanson, head brewer at Jester King, if I can walk with her. I was too busy talking on the way over to pay attention. We talk beer, obviously enough. I’m amazed to find out that she knows who I am. The name Andrea Stanley pops up. She’s another fan.
We’ve a little time before the evening event, a beer launch at Kross Bar. I use it to rest a little, watching some incomprehensible, but reassuring crap local TV. It’s all a bit Channel Nine.
Cervceria Zigurat is launching four new experimental beers. Experimental. There’s a word that makes me nervous when it’s stuck in front of beer. Isn’t that how breweries get rid of shit that’s gone wrong? By calling it “experimental”.
There’s minibus to take us to KrossBar. We’re waiting for Lew and Gordon Strong, who have disappeared into one of their rooms. “What are they doing?”, I ask. Someone replies: “They're probably kissing.”
"Thank you for putting that image in my head. I can't unsee it now."
We eventually realise they aren’t coming and drive off. They'll be locked in embrace all evening.
KrossBar is packed. We squeeze into the beer garden. I order a Maibock, which is pretty nice. Especially after all those terrible Belgian Blonde Ales.
Felipe squats on the bar and gives a little talk. I wish I could still do things like that. I'd never get up again. They joys of becoming an old twat.
Then we get to drink the beer, a NEIPA. Which isn’t really murky enough for the style. Thankfully. It's free, so I sink a pint or five. As you do.
"Mike* warned me: don't try to keep up with Ron."
"That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me."
I chat with Brazilian Leonardo Sewald about parti-gyling. Well, shout, really. It's a subject that gets me aggressive. And it’s really loud in the pub. That's my excuse. Leonardo brews at Cervejaria Seasons in Porto Alegre, at the very southern extreme of Brazil.
A journalist comes up and chats. A photographer snaps.
Me and Uwe Kalms chat about something. I'm probably way too intense. Thank god it wasn't captured on video.
As we leave, we walk past a wall of beer drinker portraits.
“That’s not right” I say “George Best was a total and utter pisshead – he got through two livers - but he wasn’t a beer drinker. White wine was his drink of choice. And Churchill, he usually went for champagne or whisky, the posh bastard.”
Everyone else is already outside before I can tell them about Carlsberg Special Brew being brewed for Churchill.
We wait ages for an Uber. A dozen taxis cruise up while we’re hanging around, but we send them on their way.
I’m slightly worried that we’re five in number. Too many for one car. A tiny car arrives. Large enough for four small passengers. I’m just a slip of a thing, but some of our party are more substantially built.
Somehow, we all cram in. The driver doesn’t seem to mind. I’m on the outside. But I can't reach the door to close it. My arm is jammed, Leonardo has to do it. The ride is, er, intimate. And bumpy. And filled with laughter.
The driver asks something in Spanish after a couple of hundred metres. “Can I stop off for petrol?”
Yeah fine. It’s dead comfortable back here. Take your time, mate.
We swap Douglas Adams jokes to pass the time. Squinting under my armpit, I can see the pump. He’s bought 200 pesos worth of petrol. That’s about a litre and a half.
Back at the hotel, we spill out when the doors are opened. And climb contently to our beds.
Though I do have a quick Lagavullin, purely for medicinal purposes. My doctor recommended it. I think. Could have been just a very vivid dream.
Great evening. I love Chile.
* Karnowski, of Zebulon Brewing in Weaverville, North Carolina.
Universidad de Las Americas
Av. Antonio Varas 880,
Restaurant Pez de Oro
Av. Manuel Montt 1060,
Tel: +56 2 2205 5861
Juguetes Perdidos Cerveza
Tel: +56 2 2759 5434
90200-200 Porto Alegre,
Tel: +55 51 4102-0583
Chile judging day two
I can see the glare from Kristen’s socks even before I get to the bottom of the stairs. His shorts make me wish I were colour blind.
“Dress in a hurry this morning, Kristen?”
He doesn’t seem to notice. Or care. One of the two. As every day I have scrambled egg, two slices of cheese and one of toast. There isn’t much else. Some spam-like meat. It’s not the most inspiring breakfast. But still better than some of the paper plate and plastic cutlery breakfasts I’ve had in the US. I felt lucky if there was one thing I wanted to eat.
It’s another slightly chilly, but bright morning. A bit like the one nice day in June we get in Amsterdam. Some of the locals are wearing overcoats. Really. I’m juts in a short-sleeved shirt.
It’s a pleasant walk. Flowers flame behind fences, children play in the small park, men sweep the pavements, cut the grass and water with hoses.
This morning my partners are Salvador Villacreces, brewer at the Cervecería Clandestina in Panamá, and Rodrigo Ramirez, from Chile.
The first two sets are Ordinary Bitter and Best Bitter. I fear the worst. Will the brewers have any idea of what Bitter should taste like? I’m pleasantly surprised. They all taste like Bitter and most are pretty good. I’d happily sink multiple pints of a couple of them. Which is the biggest compliment I can give a beer.
I realise that each time I’m paired with one Chilean and another foreigner, mostly Spanish speaking. Other than the Brazilians. It’s a good idea. A mix of nationalities is more likely to come to a balanced view.
I haven’t argued with my fellow judges much. Most have far much more experience of tasting beer than I do. They spotted faults I’d missed. Obvious enough when they pointed them out, but I still missed them. Occasionally, I’d caught one that had slipped past them.
Only on a handful of beers have we been miles apart. Then I bludgeoned them into submission with wit and aggression. Not really.
Jeff Stuffings, who’s sitting directly behind me tells me: “I’m surprised how diplomatic you are.” What do people think I am? Some sort of monster? I’m not here to make enemies or annoy.
I’m doing my best to do the beers justice. And take advantage of the rare chance to discuss beers in detail with people who actually know what the fuck they’re talking about. That’s fun to me, sad as it might sound.
Kristen has been judging Imperial Stouts. I’d have quite fancied that category, but he puts me right. “They’re all terrible. Like treacle mixed with syrup. Undrinkable.”
“But at least they’re full of alcohol.”
“One on another table tasted like balsamic vinegar and soy sauce.”
“Sounds like it would make a good dipping sauce.”
“Or a marinade.”
There are a few female judges. Eight of the forty-eight on duty today. I’m told one, Amanda Reitenbach, has been really important to the Brazilian beer scene.
Fernanda and Daiane walk past and call me Ronaldo. They find it very funny. They’ve noticed that on the screen that shows the judging panels for the current session that’s what I’m called.
I suppose it is funny. I had just told the organisers my name was Ron. Extrapolating that to Ronaldo isn’t so crazy. They invite me for cocktails this evening in the hotel. Caipirinhas. Never had one of those before.
On the way back from a comfort break, I bump into Daniel Trivelli, one of the organisers. I haven’t had chance to talk to him yet, so I stop for a chat.
The poor chap put his back out yesterday. He was in agonising pain and had to visit the hospital. Where they pumped him full of pain killers. “I wouldn’t wish that pain on my worst enemy.” He remarks.
The bogs are a bit grim. But I’ve seen worse in British pubs.
Lunch as at the Pez do Oro again. We’ve finished quite late and most of the others are already here. We squeeze in at the back of the restaurant. And start with ceviche. Worse could happen. This time I have a bright orange chicken and pumpkin main course. With rice.
For the afternoon session, I’m with Daniel Rocamora from Uruguay and Daniel Moscoso from Chile.
We don’t finish until 7 PM. By which time I’m totally knacked and never want to see a beer again. I have little time to rest before the evening event.
A few of us get an Uber to Mossto. It’s owned by Rodrigo Ramirez, with whom I judged this morning. When we arrive, there’s already a huddle of judges in the garden. We join them. I order a Black IPA when the waitress drops by.
I sit next to Carlo Lapolli, who tells me about the beer scene in Brazil. He’s the head of the Brazilian small brewers’ organisation, ABRACERVA. He says I should come to Brazil. You won’t have to ask me twice. I’ve really liked all the Brazilians I’ve met so far. And the food sounds amazing.
I wait an hour for my black IPA. The waitress has a different explanation each time she returns without it. I’m fairly sure she’s given it to someone else before she got to me a couple of times. Got to within two punters of me once. My fault for sitting in a distant corner, I suppose. Or thinking earlier: "I never want to see a beer again".
Eventually, I go to the bar to fetch my black IPA. The serving area is in the most inconvenient spot possible. Oh well, at least I have a beer now. The wait makes it taste all the sweeter. Or rather the bitterer, it being an IPA.
With a beer finally in my hand, I chat more with Carlo and Leonardo Sewald, another very friendly Brazilian.
They tell me about an ancient German brewer in Brazil who had a totally run-down brewery. They show me photos. It looks incredible: built in the early 20th century and never refurbished by the look of it.
“Unfortunately, the beers all tasted weird. Eventually the health authorities closed him down.”
Sadly, he’s since died. In the photos he looked well into his nineties.
A few of us get an Uber back to the hotel Not as crazy as yesterday’s, unfortunately.
Back at the hotel, the lobby is full of judges drinking cocktails. I’d wondered where the Brazilians were planning on having their party. Soon we have cocktails in our hands and our arses on seats. A wave of warmth and happiness flows over me. Though that could just be the cocktail kicking in.
Caipirinha is made with Cachaça, distilled from sugar cane juice. “So rum, then?” “No, it’s something different” Daiane and Fernanda insist. I’m pretty sure fermented sugar cane is the definition of rum. But they insist. I’m not going to force the point. They’re making the cocktails.
We discuss Michael Jackson. Someone says that they once had to collect Michael Jackson at the airport. And, as Michael didn’t know them, had a sign with “Michael Jackson” on it. You can guess the misunderstanding that occurred.
Kristen insults me, Gordon and Lew calling us "old bastards" I call him a twat. I think we come out of that even. Though he does have a point about the old bit.
I fetch my two bottles of Fullers 1905 Old London Ale, The only beer I brought. It goes down pretty well. Then again, they are quite well lubricated. Even Kristen is nice about it. And he’s likely to be mean in any state of sobriety.
When the rum, sorry, Cachaça runs out, we move onto the pisco someone has brought. It doesn’t last long. Though there aren’t that many of us left. Only the real pissheads. The Brazilians wisely retired to their beds when the rum, sorry Cachaça, expired.
Fucking ace day.
PanAmerica Corporate Center,
Edificio 9123 local 1 y 2,
Panamá Pacífico, Arraiján,
Rep. de Panamá
Av. Condell 1460,
Tel: +56 2 2791 8603
SAAN Q. 2,
lotes 420 a 440
Tel: (61) 3771-2400
Chile judging day three
We stop off at the Bonaparte coffee shop on the way to the university. The coffee in the hotel isn’t great. And a double expresso will guarantee I’m alert for the judging. Well, awake, at least.
It’s a 9 AM start again. But there’s only one session, thankfully. Yesterday the judging went on way too long.
My laptop isn’t working. I can’t get a wifi connection. I call over Felipe and he gets someone to take a look. He can’t get it to work, either, so they fetch me a replacement laptop. It’s all done pretty efficiently and I’m ready to rock by nine.
I’m judging with Ignazio Schwalb and Andres Gonzales Cuadra this session. We’re judging vegetable and herb beers first. In the “experimental” category. That doesn’t raise my hopes much. Amazingly most aren't shit. Some are dead good.
The final flight is Strong Dark Belgian Ale. Great. This is bang in the middle of my expertise. “I drink a crate of St. Bernardus Abt every week. This should be a doddle.” I say. I’ve been looking forward to this flight.
The first beer arrives. It’s amber in colour. Mmmm. The “Dark” in the beer style’s name sort of gives away what colour it should be. There are four beers in all, none much like Belgian versions. A couple are way off the style.
We're done by midday. Not sure what the plan is after that. I manage to collar Filipe. "What's the plan?" "The expo is over the road. And there's a free lunch. Just go in the building over the road and turn left."
It's a bit more complicated than that. True, it’s to the left. But you have to leave the building, turn another two corners, go through the student canteen and then around another corner. I feel a little out of place, surrounded by people 40 years my junior. I finally spot someone wearing a lanyard. I’m amazed that I found it.
I'm walking through the Expo looking confused when someone says: "Ron, can I have a photo with you?" I'm tempted to say "That'll be 10,000 pesos." But I'm a generous man. It's a Mexican bloke. We talk about beer a bit and I say I'm surprised he knows who I am. "You're famous in Mexico." "Really?"
The free lunch isn't great. But it's food and I haven't eaten since breakfast. Sliced meat in a bub with cheese and avocado on top. I’m starving, so I gulp it down.
I bump into John Robertson, Marty Nachel (Marty is a writer and BJCP judge. Though I don’t hold the latter against him.) and Uwe Kalms, who brews in Den Bosch. The exhibition part is in a courtyard under a tent. It's hot. Stiflingly hot.
"Let's get a beer" someone suggests. Probably me. Which is what we do. Mosaic IPAs. It is rather nice.
“It's hot in here. Fancy going to a pub?” Someone suggests. Probably me.
We're in a university. And there's a church just down the street. In a catholic country . . .
Sure enough, there's a bar over the road. We sit in the shade outside and order pisco sours. There’s a choice of Peruano and Chileano. I go for the latter. I am in Chile. After all.
The food – which they bill as tapas - looks dead good. They're even photographing it.
The barman says: "The Peruanos are better. Bigger, too. And the same price."
He’s right. I switch to Peruanos.
I have order croquets. Especially as Uwe, my soon to be countryman, is here. They aren’t quite what I expect. More like bitterballen, really. Nice. But John's beef bao is better.
I chat with Uwe about old Dutch Lager styles. Something I love banging on about. I tell him the story of Oud Bruin (which I got from Roel Mulder – he has an ace book on old Dutch beers, but, unfortunately, it’s only in Dutch) being invented by big Lager breweries in the North to compete with the sweet top-fermenting beer drunk in Brabant. And to drive the small breweries that made it out of business. I promise to send him an Oud Bruin recipe.
After a while, Uwe goes back for Best of Show judging, which I’m glad I wasn’t asked to do. I’m all judged out. We sit in the sun and have more pisco sours.
After 90 minutes or so, Uwe comes back, "How did you know we'd still be here?" He just laughs.
Our waiter speaks no English. So John is surprised at the response when he asks for the toilet inside:
"It's there on the right." Comes back in English.
I order one of the ossabuco baos. It tastes as good as it looks. And more pisco Peruanos.
We’re on a main road and buses are constantly swishing past.
“Did you see the number of that bus? T1TS. Tits. Someone must have been having a laugh when they called in that.” I’m an observant chap.
“Damn. I missed it.”
On the way back to the hotel, I buy a bottle of pisco in tiny bottle shop. Bloke dusts off the bottle. Obviously a popular brand, this. It's only about 4,000 pesos, the same as one pisco sour in the pub. His ancient tiny mum pokes out from the back as I'm paying. Not sure why.
We decide to walk to Mossto. It isn’t far and it’s a lovely evening.
I spot "Cervezas artesenales" on the outside of a bar called Saint Germain. It would be bad luck to just walk past. I like the sign by the door: “Quando hay cerveza no hay tristeza” “When you have beer you don’t have sadness.” I can go along with that.
I order a Stouty thing, Hoffnung Stout. It isn’t great. A bit sour. Weirdly some of the draughts have come all the way from Europe.
The décor is a bit weird. I get the murals of brewing equipment and hops. But why the droogs from Clockwork Orange? I don’t get the beer connection there.
As we’re walking we can see snow-capped mountains on the horizon. It’s a cheerful sight. Sadly, they’re often veiled by smog. A few old buildings, strut half naked on the street, plaster crumbled off.
We pass a gym-like places where women are exercising like pole dancers. Is that popular here. We pass a second. I guess so.
This time we’re in the upstairs room at the back. There’s already quite a crowd of rowdy drunks. Sorry, beer people.
Tempting fate, I order Black IPA again. This time it turns up in under an hour. Yahay! It arrives in a few minutes, to be fair.
I chat with Carlo and Chris Flaskamp about Germans in Brazil. They had to burn all their books in WW II, after Brazil had declared war on Germany. That’s tough. Which leads us on to discussing the Brazilian troops that fought for the Allies in Italy.
Chris runs a brewery about an hour outside Santiago. It’s called Tübinger, because he studied in Tübingen in Baden Württemberg. Though he was born in Brazil and now lives in Chile.
I order a hamburgery thing from the waiter. "What's your name?" "Ron" "Rob?" "No, Ron." "Rum?" "Ronaldo." "Oh yes, Ronaldo." I guess my South American name is Ronaldo now. Strange, because Kristen has been calling me that for years.
The service is pretty anarchic. And the bar in the most inconvenient spot possible, both for the servers and customers. I fetch my second beer myself. It seems simplest.
I don’t stay that late. I’ll need all my strength for tomorrow. It’s my birthday. And I’ll be speaking.
I get an Uber with Averie and Jeff from Jester King. With only the three of us, it positively luxurious.
A shot of pisco speeds me off to slumber’s embrace.
Av. Ricardo Lyon 1229,
D'n Draok - Bossche Brouwerij
Av. Manuel Montt 925,
Tel: +56 2 3267 4334
Saint Germain Beerhouse
Graciela Letelier de Ibañez N°2,
Tel: +56 9 6193 3716
Av. Condell 1460,
Tel: +56 2 2791 8603
Cerveceria Principal (Tübinger)
Calle Nueva s/n,
Parcela 6A. El Principal,
Chile Expo day two
I rise late. Fuck it. I've been up at 7:45 every day. And spent 8 hours judging beers. Not drinking. You actually drink bugger all while judging. Well, most people do. When I get one I like, I finish the bastard off. It's only going to get thrown down the sink otherwise.
It's noon by the time I troll up. Kristen has already started his talk on Stout. He notices me walk in and does his best to embarrass me. "We thought you might be dead."
He flicks back to a slide with a picture of me with an eye patch photoshopped on. Then gets everyone to sing happy birthday. It is my birthday, but it's still pretty weird. At least I have a beer in my hand. A very nice mosaic IPA. Things could be worse.
I'm tempted to shout comments out a couple of times, but manage to restrain myself. I'm talking later. And I know what a vindictive bastard Kristen is.
Thankfully the lectern is blocking my view of the bottom half of his body. Meaning I can actually see the slides without being dazzled by his socks.
Stan is up next. I'm sitting next to John Robertson. "Do you fancy a beer?" "Is the cath a popolic?" I fetch us a couple of mosaic IPAs.
Stan's talk is dead, dead interesting. Lots of numbery things, which is what I love. It's about Belgian monastic brewing. I'm not tempted to shout comments this time. Here's an odd thing. Despite mostly drinking Belgian beer. Well one Belgian beer, St. Bernardus Abt. I know very little about Belgian beer. I quite like that. Doesn't spoil my illusions.
I’m sitting next to John Roberts and keep nipping out to bring us Mosaic IPA. I’m a sociable sort of bloke. And often unaccountably thirsty.
When Stan is done, I feel like some lunch. I ask John: "Fancy a pisco sour lunch?" "Do shits bear in wood?" We head off with Stan and Jeff Stuffings. As we try to leave we're directed to another room where there's a beer tasting. We bug out but Stan stays.
We head over to Cafe Bao. I've had no breakfast so I'm looking forward to some ace tapas. And some pisco sours, obviously. The first Peruano I had yesterday was too sweet for my taste. But I've come to like them. As the barman said, they're bigger and boozier. That's got me sold.
As we're tucking into ossabuco bao, the conversation turns to New England IPA. Talk to just about any professional brewer (even ones that brew them) off the record and they'll tell what a steaming pile of crap they are. No-one thinks they'll be around for long. We'll see.
About five piscos in - I'm thirsty because I had no breakfast - John gets a text message. Does he know where Ron is? I'm on at 15:30. My watch says 15:20. But since the back fell off on the flight over, it's been running slow. It's actually 15:40.
"I thought we were on South American time?"
"We thought you might be dead." Kristen says. He seems to have an unnatural interest in my demise.
My talk starts slowly. Then the piscos kick in and there's a good deal of swearing and bad jokes. I've no idea how long it takes. To avoid dehydration, I've two beers. That nice mosaic IPA.
Despite my playing nice earlier, Kristen interrupts a couple of times. Bastard.
There's a panel after my talk. Me, Stan and John. Moderated by Kristen. There's just time to pick up some more Mosaic IPA before we start. John has warned me that Kristen wants to wind me up. So I'm deliberately - and untypically - dead reasonable. That'll teach the twat.
Day's duties done, it's time for fun. "Fancy a pisco, John?" "Do catholics shit on bears?"
As we're waiting to cross the road, someone says hello from one of the cars. Who the hell was that? ""It's the driver who picked us up at the airport" John tells me. How weird. What are the chances of that? "I've already bumped into him another time." John tells me. Turns out that he lives just opposite Bao Bar.
It all starts getting hazy after that. We take an Uber somewhere. Then another to Flannery's. Where there’s a Patagonia Malt event.
For some reason I've lost my sense of balance.
"Do you want to go back to the hotel?" John asks. It seems like a good idea. I'm quite tired.
So tired, I don't even have a nightcap.
Av. Manuel Montt 925,
Tel: +56 2 3267 4334
Providencia, Región Metropolitana.
Tel: +56 2 2303 0197
Chile Expo day three
I put on some bollocky local TV. Is that Kommissar Rex? What a weird series to show down here. I fill my head with fluff for an hour or two. Worried about getting through all the pisco I have left, I have a couple of shots of that. Don’t want to have to throw it down the sink come Sunday.
On the way to the expo, I pick up a cheese and ham enpanada at a little shop I spotted yesterday. I manage to understand when they ask me if I want it warmed up. I can't be arsed to wait, so I say "no". I need my breakfast. And I need it quickly.
Once at the Expo, I get myself a beer. The Mosaic IPA is all gone, unfortunately. So I get another IPA, which is also pretty good.
“Fill it to the top, please. It’ll save me having to come back so often.”
Lew Bryson is talking. He doesn't have slides. At first I think I've arrived when he's already started the Q&A. In fact his whole presentation has been in that format. As always, I’ve a beer in my hand. I listen so much better that way.
After he's finished, I feel like some lunch. Where to go?
When I arrive at Bao Bar, Averie and Jeff Stuffings are already there. How odd. Well, not really. Just for a change, I order a Pisco Peruano. And an ossobuco bao, which is ridiculously good value at $2,500. Funnily enough, the waiter remembers me.
One of the waiters speaks reasonably good English. I discover that he’s Czech and try what little remains of my Czech on him. He gives me a slightly odd, pitying look. I’m getting used to being looked at with pity. It comes with being an old bastard.
John Fahey joins us. Stan and John Roberts troll up. Then When Brad Kraus turn up, the waiters stick two tables together for us. Brad brews in Panama. Our table is starting to get crowded.
The afternoon and evening race by in a haze of pisco sours. And the occasional tapas.
I awake in my hotel bed. At least I'm undressed. But where's my watch? I’m going to have to guess when it’s time to get up.
Av. Manuel Montt 925,
Tel: +56 2 3267 4334
"It's not a big deal. It only cost 10 euros new. And that was before the emergency repair." I replaced the back that I lost on the flight over with a bit of my business card, held on with selotape. It looks dead classy. Though it's much less reliable at keeping time, for some reason. "I looked all over my hotel room, but can't find it. I can't imagine anyone would have stolen it."
I ask Kristen where there's an ATM. I need more cash. He gives me directions to a supermarket that has one. He seems to know what he's talking about. He's been here several times before.
A shower should liven me up. I turn on the shower to run warm while I brush my teeth. When I get in the shower, I notice something on floor of the cubicle. It's my watch. I quickly grab it before it gets too wet. The cardboard back isn't much in the way of protection. How the hell did it get into the shower? I guess that’s a mystery that will never be solved.
I’m told there were 31 pisco sours on our bill yesterday. I feel like I drank all of them.
I go off in search of the supermarket with the ATM, planning to pick up some grocery stuff, too. It's further than I expected. Pretty sure Kristen said to turn right onto Bilbao. After 400 metres or so I still haven't spotted the supermarket. Obviously I've come the wrong way. Or Kristen's directions were crap. I'm inclined towards the latter.
On the way back, I notice that the door to one of the banks I've passed is open. At least I'll be able to pick up some cash. I try with my bank card, but right at the end of the process it says that the transaction isn't available with my card. I try again with slightly different options. This is a bugger. Let's give it a go with my credit card. Thankfully, that works.
I decide to head to the shops at the back of the university. There's a convenience store and that bottle shop. I get some soft drinks in the former and a bottle of wine for Dolores in the latter. By the time I get back to the hotel, I've been walking for 80 minutes. I'm still feeling rough. The walk hasn't helped at all. The contrary, in fact.
Christoph Flaskamp is supposed to be picking up a couple of us at 11:15 to go his brewery for a barbecue. Stan and John Roberts have cancelled, because their flight has been brought forward. So it's just me and Michael Hall, former head of the BJCP.
I start getting worried about 11:30. At 11:40, Michael Hall, who’s getting a lift as well, gets a message from Christoph. He's running a little late. It's almost midday when he rolls up. (Michael is former head of the BJCP. But I don’t hold that against him.) He’s a soft-spoken, friendly man.
The drive to the brewery is interesting. It looks a lot less first world after we leave Santiago. There are bright orange flowers everywhere. I ask Christoph what they are. He doesn't seem to know: "A spring flower." Is the best he can come up with. I could have guessed that.
When he finds out my wife is German we start discussing language.
“What language do you speak at home?”
“English.” I reply. “When the kids were small I wouldn’t respond if they spoke to me in English.”
“I speak to mine in German. But they answer in Spanish.”
“It was easier for us, as neither are Dutch.”
The barbecue is in full swing when we arrive, with around 100 guests getting stuck into the beers enthusiastically. As it’s an all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink event, that shouldn’t be a surprise. And, to be fair, it is quite warm.
Christoph gives us a quick tour of his brewery. It looks much like every other modern brewery: loads of stainless steel things in a shed.
Chris introduces me to his partner, Martin Flannery. Owner of Flannery’s Beerhouse. He has some weird tales of importing Guinness into Chile. And eventually being told to stop. That’s why he teamed up with Chris: to brew a Guinness substitute for his two Irish pubs. We try a glass. It’s pretty nice. With a good creamy head from the use of nitrogen.
We start to chat about Guinness serving methods. His parents ran a pub in the West of Ireland when he was a kid. He can remember when Guinness still came from the wood. His mum would put some casks next to the fire and leave some in the cold. The warm ones became the high cask, the one with highly carbonated beer. The cold ones were the low cask, with flatter beer. Every pint served was a combination of the two. It’s the same concept as the Belfast Guinness Porter.
I meet one of my fellow judges, a young Colombian woman, now living in Chile, with whom I’d not spoken before. She smiles all the time. It’s infectious. I’m starting to crack a grin more often. And I’m a right miserable old git.
Chris gives me the nod when the barbecue is ready so we’re at the head of the queue. Great. I hate waiting for stuff. A couple of big lumps of meat on each of our plates, we sit down to eat. This rather pleasant, eating al fresco. There’s potato salad, rice and tomato salad, too. It’s all rather nice.
“Why are some people drinking from real glasses?” I ask Chris. We’ve got the plastic cups the bar is serving in.
“They’ve bought them in the shop. Do you want one?”
I wasn’t dropping a hint, but I’m not going to turn one down. Chris comes back with a bag, a baseball cap and a six pack, as well as the glass. The beer definitely tastes better from the real glass.
We drink a bit more beer, but can’t linger long. Mike has a plane to catch. Chris will drop him off at the airport then carry on to my hotel.
I’m glad we make the detour to the airport. I’m dying for a wee when we get there.
“Is it OK if I go to the toilet, Chris?” Not adding the other possibility: me pissing inside his car.
“No problem. I’ll wait here.”
Sweet relief is soon at hand. Er, so to speak.
The week’s last event, the award ceremony, is tonight at eight. It’s in a different part of the same university. I’ve a couple hours to write emails, waste time looking at tweets and stare in literal incomprehension at the TV.
I walk down by myself. But soon find some chums to chat with. And some beer to drink, obviously.
It’s really packed. All the seats are taken. I have to stand at the side. It’s not particularly comfortable as people keep pushing past. It’s not their fault, No other way to get through. But it’s a constant struggle to keep my beer intact. Obviously, that’s the most important. Wouldn’t want to lose any beer. Or spill it over someone.
I hear my name called. That’s nice. People start motioning. I have to go on stage. OK, not so sure about that. But there are a few dozen others so I don’t stand out like the fat, old git that I am.
There’s some very enthusiastic applause for some of the winners. Especially the Argentinian breweries.
They wander around with canapey sort of food. I have a few bits, but that barbecue has right filled me up.
I don’t stay too late. Outside, where I’m trying to remember which direction is home, I bump into another attendee. Who has a car and drives me back. That’s a relief. I’m knacked again. And I need to be up fairly early. My lift to the airport is at 9:30.
The week has been amazing. Like a summer school for pissheads. The most continuous fun I’ve had for years.
Just time for a quick pisco before the god of sleep plucks me from this earth.
Cerveceria Principal (Tübinger)
Calle Nueva s/n,
Parcela 6A. El Principal,
Chile there I go
Could this be my worst fear? Have Kristen gone full nuclear?
Shielding my eyes, I enter the breakfast room. Everyone is by the window, behind a lead shield. The only seat left is next to Kristen. I pathetically attempt to shield my grillocks with two spoons. And rotate my head from side to side to stop one side burning off. But maybe I’m just rotissering myself.
“Nice socks, Kristen.”
Fernanda and Carlo are taking the same car to the airport. It gives us a little longer to chat. We part inside the airport.
Once I’ve dumped my check in bag, I pick up some sweets for Alexei. It’s a good way of getting rid of the $5,000 note.
Just as I’m approaching the immigration booth someone shouts "Ron, Ron." It makes me jump a bit. Do they realise I’ve two keys of coke in my carry on? I look around, nervously. It’s two of my fellow conference attendees in the queue.
We bump into each other in the duty free. They’re tasting whisky and invite me to join them. They’re both Argentinian heading back to Buenos Aires. The one has a brewery there. Very tiny. But he’s also studying.
One tells me the simultaneous Spanish translation of my talk wasn’t great. They missed out all of the swearing. “It totally ruined it.” I believe him. The swearing was an integral part. Like the mortal in a wall. The thing that holds all the boring bricks together.
I ask if they fancy having a drink. As you do. But they’re cutting it really fine. Their gate closes in 20 minutes. I walk with them towards their gate a bit, sussing out my bar options. We say our goodbyes and I plonk myself down at the bar of Ruby Tuesday. I know. But it’s here and has alcohol.
I order a pisco sour. The barkeep says something. I don’t quite get it. She repeats it then, realising I’m an idiot or non-Spanish speaker, points at the menu: “Alcoholic drinks only with food” in English. OK.
I order the smallest portion of deep fried mozzarella sticks and a pisco sour Peruano. Which she makes I front of me? What is that powder? There’s still loads left in the mixer after she’s filled my glass. I wonder what’s going to happen to that? It doesn’t look very efficient.
Everton Arsenal is on the TVs behind the bar. Depressingly, the Arses are winning. And are playing quite well, much as I hate to say that. It’s much like being in the US, with the tellies behind the bar showing games.
When I’m half way through my 8 sticks, I order a second pisco sour. The barkeep just pours more stuff into the mixer.
This time the leftovers don’t stay in the mixer. It’s need for something else. She pours it carefully into a cup. Then makes some sort of drink from fresh strawberries and a shitload of sugar. She tastes it by using a straw as a pipette. No more adjustments, so she must have got it right first time
Six sticks in, I order my third pisco sour. She pours the leftover mix in the mug into the mixer and adds more shit. I’ve no problem with that. I wouldn’t want to see booze thrown away.
I’ve still half a cheese thing when I order my fourth pisco sour. I really don’t feel like eating any more, but I force it down. My drink, miraculously, lasts until it’s time to head for my gate.
I picked up two bottles of pisco in the duty free. One for Andrew, one for Alexei. I hope they enjoy them. And that Dutch customs don’t notice that I’m over the limit.
The camera in the nose is working for takeoff. You can see the runway speed by. After the traditional interminable taxi. Unfortunately, the views it gives of the Andes are a bit flat.
Soon I’m up to my earpits in crappy, light films. My usual diet on planes. We’re fed some not very good food, I grab a port, a wine, a champagne and a cognac with it. To take away the taste, honestly.
Four hours into the flight, when the cabin lights go out, I decide its kip time. I manage to drop off reasonably well. Not the most restful sleep I’ve ever had, but good enough. I get up an hour or two before I expect breakfast to be served. And watch another film. Some crap about an American family smuggling weed from Mexico. It passes the time in a numbing way.
Thirty minutes before brekkie, there’s an announcement. First in French. Unfortunately, I get the gist “Urgence médicale” is pretty obvious. Medical emergency. We’re diverting to an airport whose name I don’t quite catch in French. When the announcement is made in English, I still don’t get the name. But I can where it must be on the flight tracker: The Azores.
It takes us about 45 minutes to get there and land. Another 30 minutes to offload. Then they tell us we’ll have to get off while they refuel. Buses take us to the terminal. Where nothing is open. Unsurprisingly, as it’s the middle of the night here, around 3 AM.
I hear someone say” “So you’re on the same flight, Ron.”
It’s Dorothea Wächtler. She sits next to me and we start chatting. Should make the wait go more quickly.
“Refueling will take at least an hour.” I say, trying to be realistic. “I know that I’ll miss my connection.”
Dorothea has a connecting flight to Munich, which she’ll also miss. Then she has to drive to Bamberg. I don’t envy her.
“I’m not worried. There are plenty of flights to Amsterdam. I was much more careful on the way out, leaving myself 5 hours for the change.” I shouldn’t tempt fate.
“How did you get into beer? When was it?” She asks when we’re sat on the bus back to the plane.
“Ages ago. In the early 1970’s. I went to the first modern beer festival, Covent Garden in 1975.”
Dorothea is either impressed or appalled. It’s hard to read her face.
“Then I read Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer and my life changed forever.”
There’s that look again.
There’s nothing but apples and bread that I’d eat from the breakfast. The pancakes struggling under waves of sweet gunk aren’t going anywhere near my mouth. The orange juice is unnaturally sweet, too. My body is longing for eggs and bacon and I get this crap.
I tell the stewardess I’ll miss my connection. “What should I do?” “Go to one on the transfer machines and book another flight.” Great. That doesn’t sound too bad.
We land at just before 11:00. I’m feeling a wee bit knacked. Despite the sleep.
Pretty soon I’m on a machine, my passport scanned and looking at the rebooking options. The earliest is at 15:30. But that’s changing in Toulouse. Which is just about 100% in the wrong direction. Next soonest is via Birmingham. The earliest – and only – direct option is a KLM flight at 20:15. Fuck. I’ll be in Charles de Gaulle all effing day.
OK, that look like the only option. I start going through the rebooking process. It allocates be a middle seat. I hate that, so I try to change it. But there are no other free seats. It looks like I got the last one. I got the print boarding card panel. But instead of a boarding card it spits out a piece of paper saying “irregularities with checked in baggage – go to desk”.
Magic. Is my seat booked or not? There’s a crowd of 40 or 50 people queueing at the desk. But luckily I can use the Sky Priority lane. There only seven people waiting there. But most of the people behind the desk are on the phone, trying to sort out something. It takes ages for each passenger. It’s 40 minutes before it’s my turn. I hope there’s still a seat.
I have been rebooked. Don’t know what that shit about luggage was as they just print my boarding pass and give me a 15 euro food voucher. Then I’m off to pier 2F.
But, as I’m passing from non-Schengen to Schengen, my luggage has to be scanned. They test my duty free in some weird machine. Without opening it they can tell it’s just booze and not an explosive or some other nasty.
Once I’m through passport control it’s a short jump on the little train. Then a convoluted walk of around a mile up and down stairs and along weird corridors. With nothing as civilised as a moving walkway. This airport is so utterly and totally dreadful.
2F has even fewer options than 2E, where I spent a miserable 5 hours last week. This is shit. The only refreshment opportunities are two cafeteria-like places. And the shop. And the duty-free.
I get a couple of cans and two baguettes in the shop. It comes to 17 euros. That voucher didn’t last long. I find a random seat and power up my laptop. I ought to tell Dolores what’s happening. After a bit of fiddling around, I get online and email Dolores. Then go on Twitter to say how crap Charles de Gaulle airport. Plenty agree with me.
Every time I need to have a waz, or buy a beer, I have to pack up my laptop and lug all my crap with me. I had two bags to start, now I’ve one with sarnies and beer in it. What a pain.
I’m thinking of buying some miniatures, when I notice they have 200 ml bottles of Bell’s for 7.20 euros. That’s not bad value. I get it and a half litre bottle of diet coke from the shop. I’m very health conscious, me. And a couple of cans and a sarnie. That’s me set.
Back at another random seat. Somewhere quiet, I guzzle down half the coke and discretely refill with Bells. He presto. Coke plus. That’ll keep me warm through the next dozen episodes of Rick & Morty.
The wifi is weird here. Quite crap, varying from zero to bugger ale bandwidth. And it keeps dropping out altogether. It’s as if they’re trying to encourage you to choose the pay service. Why would they do that?
Watching Rick and Morty makes this whole experience bearable and fleeting. Exactly what I wanted.
The grandiose concrete crap reminds me of the Washington Metro. Which can be equally impractical (ludicrously far underground at points, probably to act as a nuclear bunker. Ditto the huge spaces underground.) Though nothing can match Charles de Gaulle for form over function, pretence over practicality, pride over prejudice. Crap in just about everything. Including the placement of the bogs: downstairs. Very wheelchair friendly.
The time doesn’t drag too badly. Especially after my whisky investment. Now I think about it, the lack of a bar has probably saved me 70 to 80 euros.
I have to change seat once, when the wifi disappears and refuses to reconnect. What fun it is.
At least my flight is on time. Even better, my bag is already on the carousel by the time I get there. This part of the journey has gone to plan.
I jump in a taxi. No way I’m getting the bus. I’m way too tired for that. Dolores seems relieved that I’ve made it home. The kids look pleased, too. After I give them their pisco.
What a nightmare of a journey. 30 hours from leaving my hotel to falling through my front door. It was worth it, mind. Chile was ace.